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Coyotes make it eight in a row

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Sooner or later, someone is going to figure out a way to beat the Phoenix Coyotes again. But the team that turns the trick is going to have to play a full 60 minutes – plus – to do it.

Just 48 hours after rallying from 3-0 down in the third period to be Florida, the never-say-die Coyotes reeled in a pair of two-goal deficits to Chicago and won their eighth straight game, 5-4 in a shootout, over the slumping Blackhawks at Arena.

Just as he did in Florida, Radim Vrbata decided the game with a backhand flip to give the Coyotes 11 shootout wins in 15 tries this season. It's their first eight-game winning streak since Nov. 16-Dec. 2 of 1999 – when Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and 23-year-old Shane Doan donned the Robo-Coyote sweaters at then-America West Arena.
"That's us. We never quit and we just keep coming," said Vrbata, who sent a standing-room only crowd of 17,534 home with fingers tingling. "We tie it once, then we get down two goals again against a great team … but we didn't quit. We came back and found a way."

With 95 points, the Coyotes crept to within two of the Blackhawks two points of Chicago for the Western Conference lead and one point behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose. They are now 3-0 against Chicago this season and 7-2-2 against the Blackhawks, Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

"That team is really a model on how teams should play," said Chicago forward Andrew Ladd, who scored the first of two Blackhawk goals early in the third period to give his team a 4-2 lead. "They come back hard … they go hard into areas and they play well defensively."

Chicago has lost four of the last five, but the one point gained Saturday pushed it past the Sharks and into sole possession of the West lead.

Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made 34 saves in regulation and had his problems during the night, but stoned Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp in succession on the shootout to register his 39th win of the year and add another page to his Vezina Trophy application.

Lee Stempniak scored twice during Phoenix's second three-goal third period in as many games – giving him nine goals, 11 points and three two-goal performances in his first eight games as a Coyote after arriving from Toronto at the trade deadline.

Phoenix is undefeated since forwards Stempniak, Wojtek Wolski, Petteri Nokelainen and defenseman Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider joined the team.

"I wanted to come here and have a fresh start," Stempniak said. "I've scored goals before and I know how to do it. To be part of a team that's winning and to chip in is a lot of fun. This was a big test for us. Coming back after a long (4-0) road trip, it would have been easy to have a letdown game. But we found a way."

The Coyotes had a golden opportunity to win 1:15 into overtime when Matthew Lombardi was awarded a penalty shot after being taken down from behind by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. But Lombardi was smothered by Chicago goalie Antti Niemi (31 saves) and the game continued.

Then with 17.1 seconds left, Coyotes forward Vernon Fiddler deflected a puck off his skate and past Niemi – but the goal was quickly washed out by referee Tim Peel, who ruled Fiddler had kicked the puck into the net.

The matchup of two of the top three teams in the Western Conference lived up to its advance billing. Chicago led 2-0 in the second period and 4-2 in the third, only to see the Coyotes roar back each time to the delight of only their third sellout crowd this season.

Ladd and Sharp answered the first Phoenix rally with goals 1:12 apart – with Ladd beating Bryzgalov with a 40-foot knuckler that seemed to take the air out of Phoenix.

But Stempniak scored his second goal with 13:07 left and Adrian Aucoin pounced on a loose puck in the slot and tied it with 5:07 to play.
"We really wanted to get that goal back for Bryz," Stempniak said. "He's done it for us so many times. It was a great game. There was a lot of energy in the building and it was a fast-paced game. This team doesn't quit."

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